Tanya Byron on how to manage the breakfast rush hour

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  • Tanya Byron, clinical psychologist and mum of 2, is best known for helping families on The House of Tiny Tearaways. Here she reveals her tips on making breakfast go smoothly, dealing with fussy eaters and why sleep is so important

    You’ve helped developed a new book with Warburtons. What’s it about?

    It’s called Making Breakfast Easy and it’s to help families eat a nutritious, tasty breakfast. The book offers a huge range of advice and tips that you and your kids can do to help you have a smoother morning and also really funny, and sometimes really simple, common sense, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that tips from parents on how they manage the breakfast rush hour. We’ve got loads of recipes, suggestions from parents and professionals, people who own cafes and B&Bs for their advice on getting breakfast to run smoothly as part of their business. It’s very light-hearted and fun.

    Mums often find breakfast and the time around it really stressful. Any advice?

    An interesting factoid is that if you compare what mothers have to tackle during an hour, hour-and-a-half in the morning and compare that to business people, women generally do 9.8 challenges in that hour. Business people are doing on average just over 4 challenges in the same time. So, you’re looking at probably the busiest times of the day where not only are you trying to achieve a task for yourself, but you’re trying to achieve a task for a number of other people. And if they’re children in particular, they’re probably reluctant to get their morning done as efficiently as maybe we would like.

    In the book I talk about how to set up simple incentive star charts to give kids ‘golden time’ at the end of the day if they’ve started their day nicely and it’s a very simple message. To start the day you need to a) eat well b) feel organised and settled and c) feel happy. How to minimise stress. How to minimise arguments. How to organise yourself, how to get really good food down yourself and your kids. How to have a nice day, really. Not great science, but it’s lifestyle-essential stuff that’s very much based on other people’s experiences.

    What’s your advice for tackling fussy eaters?

    More than half of the mums we talked to had to make a variety of breakfasts for their kids. They were like a breakfast kitchen. What’s good about toast is it’s nutritional, kids like it and they all have their own preference for toppings, so we’ve got recipes for kids who like sweet stuff, like bananas and maple syrup and for kids who like something more savoury, there’s beans on toast, which makes life a little bit easier. That’s quite a good way of getting their nutritional needs met without having a big row about who eats what in the morning.

    What’s your breakfast speciality?

    I’m a bit of a banana on toast girl. My father was German and I spent a lot of time in Europe and so I’m also a bit of a savoury girl in the morning – I like ham and cheese on toast and I also love a boiled egg. I love breakfast. It’s my favourite meal. I get quite excited about it and think about what I’m going to have. I’ve got a range of breakfast treats that I like. Is that sad?

    Are you a good cook?

    No. But that’s because I’m married to one! My husband’s an actor [Bruce Byron], but he trained as a chef. His hobby is charcuterie. I can cook – my children won’t starve if my husband goes away – but if we want to have something that’s fabulous that someone’s spent time and trouble on, then it’s not me. I’ll lay the table, chop up and wash up. You’ve gotta pick your husband right!

    What advice would you give to mums to make mornings less stressful?

    For starters they shouldn’t feel like they’re a rubbish mother. Over a quarter of the mums we surveyed find the breakfast rush hour and school run more stressful than a visit from their in-laws or a parents’ evening. We’re all in the same boat. No one needs to feel like they’re failing as a parent because they can’t quite get it together.

    My tips are partly what I’ve learnt over the years myself – it’s really good to start the night before. You can significantly reduce morning chaos by certain things getting done the night before – bags packed, PE kits ready, lunches made, breakfast laid, clothes set out and children should be taking responsibility for that as well as they get older. That should be part of everybody’s routine the night before. For mums it also helps you go to sleep with a slightly more settled head, thinking at least I can get started with tomorrow going quite smoothly. The second thing, again, it’s something I do and a lot of people who contributed to the book spoke about this – I like to get up a bit earlier than everyone else and have a cup of tea, a bit of toast, just to settle my head. My perfect 15-minute moment.

    Is a routine important?

    I think routines are really important. I’m not saying we need to live like automatons and flexibility and being able to have a laugh is important, it’s all part of life, but having a routine is also important and for younger kids it’s training. It might be that you have a morning chart with all the key tasks that everyone has to do, like put your duvet across your bed neatly, get dressed nicely, eat your breakfast nicely, clean your teeth, get your bag, put your shoes on ready – if that’s laid out on a list of tasks on a chart with the days of the week at the top, you can incentivise children.

    You can make it fun, make it competitive and they can get stickers on the chart. Also you can look at the chart and think, “we’ve started the day brilliantly”. Say to them: “Look! We are a team! So you get 15 minutes of ‘golden time’ tonight.” Tell the child they get additional time up, just before bed, or 10 minutes, where they can do what they want with you – play a game, draw a picture. Say: “We can do whatever you want because you’ve earnt that for being such a fantastic, responsible member of the family this morning.”

    Shouting isn’t very helpful and I see this in my clinics where families start the day in an unhappy way where everyone’s rushing round and end up shouting and 25 breakfasts have to be cooked. I’m all for laughing, having a joke, singing a song, telling a funny story and we’ve got nice little anecdotes like that in the book, too.

    If everyone starts the day well-fed, feeling settled, feeling prepared, knowing what they’re doing, where they’re going and you’re happy and loving, it’s probably the best way any human being, whether they’re an adult or a child, can begin their day.

    What’s your new TV programme about?

    I’m just about to start a live series on Channel 4 every Tuesday from April 9 about sleep, called Bedtime Live. It’s about the science of sleep but it’s very fun and interactive, with lots of quizzes and tests and how the brain works. Poor sleeping is the core of a lot of problems that families face and that can include fussy eating.

    I think from a psychological and physiological point of view, sleep is the most fundamental aspect of life. You can see the effects of a lack of sleep, or broken sleep, in families across the board and I think a lot of people would say that sleep sits at the top of the problem list because if everyone had slept better, then mornings would be easier, people would be less fussy about food, we’d have fewer tantrums and fewer arguments.

    In the hour that we’re live we’ve got kids with sleep problems we’re going to try to put to bed while we’re on. We’ve got stuff with teenagers who do too much technology before sleep and have problems with concentration at school. We compare a sleep-deprived mother with one who’s had a few glasses of wine to see who’s more dangerous and lots of other facts like that to help people understand the fundamental importance of sleep.

    Are you doing another series of Tiny Tearaways?

    No, I stopped doing that a while ago. I did 3 series and then I stopped. I’m not doing any more. Bedtime Live is the first TV I’ve done in about 4 or 5 years. My kids were at the age where they were very aware of me being on TV and I didn’t think it was fair on them. Particularly doing what I do. The woman who tells people how to bring their kids up. How awful would that be for them?

    What’s the hardest thing about being a parent nowadays?

    Two things. Most parents grew up on the wrong side of the digital generational divide. A big problem for a lot of parents is they don’t understand what their kids are doing using technology and social media. Not understanding leads to anxiety and anxiety is not a good place to be in if you’re trying to do some effective parenting. The moral panic around it is so huge. It’s not just that parents feel disempowered in the face of it and don’t really get it, but then what you read in society is so negative about it all that parents are genuinely, and quite understandably, confused about how to help their kids. So when we’re anxious we do the fight or flight response, don’t we?

    There are parents who are constantly at loggerheads with their kids about it, or parents who basically say, “whatever, let them get on with it”. And neither position is good because kids do need help to understand how to be a sensible digital citizen – how to be safe, how to be respectful, keep themselves safe, that kind of stuff. But they need the freedom to enjoy this online world because it’s amazing. It’s part of their generation and it’s how they live their life. So I think parents feel disempowered by a lack of knowledge.

    The other issue is that kids have too much technology in their bedrooms. I did some work with teenagers who were sleeping 4 hours a night because they’re gaming and gaming and gaming. When we looked at their brains we saw one part wanting to go to sleep, while another part was going, no, no, more stimulation! You can literally see the brain in conflict. These kids are absolutely exhausted. And not only do they sleep much less, they lose rapid eye movement sleep so they’re losing the really important part of sleep that they need, which will have a real knock-on effect in terms of development. We need to be able to put some boundaries around how our kids use technology, not because we want to stop them using it, but because we want them to use it sensibly and don’t want them using it when they should be asleep.

    – Making Breakfast Easy with Warburtons is out on April 22. Copies are limited so to find out how to get your hands on one, visit www.facebook.com/warburtons from mid-April.

    – Bedtime Live is on Channel 4 from Tuesday March 19, 8pm to 9pm.

    – Tanya will also be doing a live takeover on Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday 27th March. Log on to www.facebook.com/warburtons from 12 – 1pm to have all your breakfast questions answered! #AskTanyaByron.

    Where to next?

    Sleep strategies that work
    Why you should trust your instincts
    Child-friendly breakfast recipes

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